Atlanta, GA – Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields called the charges levied against six Atlanta police officers for their handling of the arrest of two college students a political move and said other agencies are dropping out of mutual aid agreements with the city as a result.
Chief Shields said in an email to her police force sent late Tuesday that although she felt two of the officers had needed to be fired for what happened, the district attorney’s office never discussed plans to charge the officers ahead of that announcement, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
“The officers were fired because I felt that is what had to occur,” the police chief wrote. “This does not mean for a moment that I will sit quietly by and watch our employees get swept up in the tsunami of political jockeying during an election year.”
Prosecutors announced charges against the six officers who were caught on video that went viral as they tased two people resisting arrest during a curfew crackdown on Saturday night.
The incident began when Atlanta police officers tried to enforce the 9 p.m. curfew set by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms after Friday’s riots left the city burned and vandalized, WGXA reported.
Messiah Young, 22, and 20-year-old Taniyah Pilgrim, were in a car that was part of the traffic blocking the streets downtown during the enforcement efforts.
When Young saw officers attempting to arrest a man he said was a classmate, he stopped his own car in the traffic and attempted to get involved, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Bodycam video showed he opened his car door, filmed video with his phone, and repeatedly said “I’m not dying today” before telling the officers that the man they were arresting was with him.
Young tried to interfere and get the arresting officers to release the man and let him get into his car and that’s when things went sideways.
After he brought himself to the attention of the police attempting to make the arrest, things went downhill.
Young tried to flee, the officers caught up with his car, and cell phone video filmed by bystanders showed multiple officers damaging the vehicle, Tasing Young, and dragging him and his girlfriend out of the car.
After video of the incident went viral, the mayor and the police chief said they carefully reviewed all of the bodycam footage from the incident, WGXA reported.
“I really wanted to believe that the body-worn camera footage would provide some larger view that could better rationalize why we got to this space,” Chief Shields said. “And having spent most of the afternoon with the mayor, reviewing the footage exhaustively, I knew that I had only one option, and that is to terminate the employees.”
At a press conference with the mayor on Sunday, the police chief called the bodycam footage from the incident “really shocking to watch,” WGXA reported.
“The more I watched and the more I listened it was apparent we were in the wrong,” she said later in her email to Atlanta police. “We gave conflicting instructions; we didn’t allow the driver or passenger a chance to respond – we created chaos and we escalated a low-level encounter into a space where we introduced violence. Once this occurs, we need to own it.”
Her justification for the couple not responding to police commands doesn’t explain fleeing from police or resisting arrest.
Bottoms announced the termination of Atlanta Police Investigators Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner, with four more officers restricted to desk duty.
Investigator Streeter was a 17-year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department, and Investigator Gardner has been on the force for 23 years, according to WGXA.
On Tuesday morning, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced charges against all six officers who had been involved in the incident with Young and Pilgrim, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Investigator Gardner was charged with aggravated assault (assault with a deadly weapon) for Tasing Pilgrim.
And Investigator Streeter is facing aggravated assault charges for pointing a gun at Young and then Tasing him, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Officer Lonnie Hood has been charged with aggravated assault for deploying a Taser on Young and Pilgrim, and Officer Willie Sauls was charged with the same for pointing a Taser.
Officer Armond Jones was charged with aggravated battery for forcefully putting Young on the pavement after he was pulled out of the car, and for pointing a gun at him, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Officer Roland Claud was charged with criminal damage to property for damaging the vehicle.
Chief Shields said in her email that she wasn’t consulted in advance and had fought against charging the officers involved in the incident because she feared the ramification for the department, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported
“The criminal piece was brought to my attention yesterday through a fellow employee,” the police chief wrote. “Upon receiving the information, I called the DA and strongly expressed my concern, both to the appropriateness and the timing of any charges. Now that the charges have been announced, I’m very concerned with the space we find ourselves in, both tactically and emotionally.”
She said that some nearby police departments that Atlanta had mutual aid agreements with to help each other in emergencies no longer wanted to assist in Atlanta out of fear their officers would face a similar dilemma, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Multiple agencies that were assisting us in managing this incredibly volatile time have pulled out, effective immediately,” Chief Shields told her force. “They are not comfortable with their employees being leveraged politically by the potential of also facing criminal charges.”
Then she went on to explain her motivation for sending the email explaining it all, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“I am providing you with this level of detail because you need to know what is going on if there is any chance of us navigating our current state safely,” the police chief wrote.
All six officers have been asked to surrender themselves by June 5, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.